1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2018… Francis Joyon is apart from Loïck Peyron and his eight attempts, the most experienced sailor in the race between Saint-Malo and Pointe-à-Pitre. Although he has never won the race with his best result being runner-up in 2010, Francis has always stood out, stubbornly living up to his reputation as a sailor of the extreme, pushing hard to the limits and bold in his choice of route. His Route du Rhum races are never dull and boring, and there is always that touch of panache. So what will happen on this his seventh attempt? What will the holder of the Jules Verne Trophy be able to do against a number of competitors who have moved into a new technological dimension? What exciting story will the sailor, who at one moment or another in his long career has held all the major ocean sailing records, be writing for us this time at the helm of his giant trimaran, IDEC SPORT.
From his first attempt at the Route du Rhum in 1990, Francis Joyon, then just 34 years of age, got everyone dreaming by sawing off three metres of his hull of his jig-saw puzzle of a catamaran with just a few days to go to the start. His hand-built boat was assembled out of parts he found lying around here and there. Francis made it to Pointe-à-Pitre after a series of technical hurdles, repairs and attempts at stemming an ingress of water using the means at his disposal, a way of doing things rivalled only by the fictional MacGyver. The ORMA years with the 60-foot ultra-light, trimarans with a lot of sail still did not see him triumph between Brittany and Guadeloupe, unlike what he achieved by triumphantly winning the transatlantic race from Plymouth, which was perhaps that bit rougher and maybe more suite to Joyon’s methods. Francis did well in 1996 (in spite of capsizing before the finish while galloping away in front) and in 2000 when he triumphed in the North Atlantic.
Capsizes were the order of the day in 2002 when no fewer than six ORMA trimarans out of eighteen were knocked out. Francis was among them and after two days of hair-raising conditions in the storm, he had to spend no fewer than five days in the flooded cockpit of his upturned trimaran, which he stubbornly refused to abandon. Extreme routes, epic crossings on highly unlikely boats, disasters, but also a fine second place in 2010 behind the unbeatable Groupama 3, which went on to become IDEC SPORT. Francis has seen it all in the Route du Rhum. But he is returning, still a fighter, keen to show what he can do and resisting the latest hi-tech trends once again that he observes from afar as a keen craftsman and after all his successes on the world’s oceans. Up against the flying boats, IDEC SPORT will according to her skipper, ‘flutter around’ looking for favourable weather conditions. Aboard his 2006 VPLP designed boat, Francis will be helped in this challenge by a special weather unit matching his way of working and comprising of Christian Dumard and Gwénolé Gahinet.
“I want to have a good race.” Simple and concise, Francis is thinking more about his pleasure of sailing his magnificent boat. The solo and crewed record-hunter likes the idea of returning to a fleet race on his favourite home ground of the North Atlantic between France and the Antilles. “Over the past few months, we have done a lot of work on the boat and she feels excellent now. My team and I applied the same idea of stripping things down to a minimum, which I believe is essential to handle such a boat and limit the risks of damage. We have made a lot of progress on adjusting the incidence of the foils. IDEC SPORT still has her wonderful sea-keeping ability and has gained some speed in some points of sail, thanks also to the arrival of some new sails. As for me, I’m ready to push her to get the most out of her throughout the 3542 miles of the course.”